Regarding Paul de Vries’ March 6 letter, “The crimes of an imperial power“: De Vries’ attempt to dissociate Japan and Germany during World War II is based on a less-than-complete understanding of Adolf Hitler’s war, which was a unified, flagrantly imperialist-expansionist push, exactly as Japan’s venture in Asia was.

Whether the invaded lands were “sovereign states” or “imperial possessions” is immaterial to the fact that, on both fronts, neither the victimized peoples nor their governments welcomed the invaders. In all cases, except Austria’s, they resisted.

Hitler’s war was certainly characterized by a systematic machinery of genocide, whereas Japan’s was not. But both powers imported captured slave labor and massacred colonials en masse. The rationale for these race-based atrocities was the same in both cases; what justified the expansionism to begin with were overweening attitudes of racial superiority.

The “superior” Aryans were entitled to Lebensraum (euphemism for German expansionism); the superior Japanese were to wrest their Asian cousins from the Western yoke. Each philosophy did have systematic machinery to enunciate and promulgate it (the SS Ahnenerbe, Yasukuni culture), which the governments and popular media of both nations pursued with vigor. It was these twin cosmologies that allowed Germany and Japan to join as Axis brethren bent on shared world domination — Grossdeutschland and the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere.

Forms of racism underpin all colonialism, as the West’s long history of bearing “the white man’s burden” will attest. Undoubtedly all right-thinking people yearn for every nation, including English-speaking ones, to own up to its past atrocities. But the events of 1900 (“Rape of Beijing”) and of World War II have a whole other war between them and took place in markedly different worlds.

Despite Chinese President Xi Jinping’s playground diplomacy, his grasp of history is sound. The wartime policies of the two leading Axis allies cannot be much differentiated either in theory or in practice. To claim otherwise is in itself to rewrite history.

faith bach

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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